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June 2006 Drivelines - 4x4 News

Posted in Features on June 1, 2006
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The next generation of Toyota's fullsize pickup has grown 10 inches longer, 5 inches taller, and 4 inches wider, sizing it up to F-150 and Silverado stature. An optional 5.7L V-8 and six-speed automatic will bring its maximum towing capacity above 10,000 pounds. Not all details have been revealed; for instance, we don't know the output of that 5.7 or any structural info on the truck's chassis beyond being told it has "30 percent higher tensile strength steel." We do know the truck will be available in base, SR5, and Limited trim levels, and with three cab configurations, most likely regular, Access, and Double, since Toyota's info about seating makes reference to "two-row models." Tundra will hit the dealerships in "early 2007," says the maker.

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We were skeptical of rumors that Ford was planning an extended version of its refreshed Expedition. After all, didn't FoMoCo kill the Excursion due to low sales and public condemnation of its outsized dimensions? Well, we were wrong. The '07 Expedition and its upscale cousin will include EL (Ford) and L (Lincoln) models with 24 extra cubic feet of cargo space behind the third seat row. Both SUVs will have stiffer chassis and redesigned suspensions (including a new independent rear) for improved ride and handling, and the 300hp Triton 5.4L V-8 will be mated to a new six-speed transmission. The Lincoln goes on sale in the summer, followed by the Expedition in the fall.

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GM continued rolling out variations of its new GMT900 truck platform by revealing the '07 Avalanche in Chicago. Early models (probably available as you read this) will be powered by 5.3L, 310hp V-8s equipped with GM's cylinder-deactivating Active Fuel Management technology; later in the year an all-aluminum, 6.0L, 355hp V-8 with Active Fuel Management and variable valve timing will be optional. A Z71 off-road package will also come on stream later in the year. Avalanche still features GM's versatile Midgate rear bulkhead, which opens the back of the truck's cab to accommodate lengthy cargo.

Dodge chose not to unveil a production-model pickup in Chicago; instead, we got the Rampage, a Dakota-size, Hemi-powered concept truck that features an Avalanche-like midgate (Chrysler, surprisingly, uses the same term as GM but doesn't capitalize the "m" like GM does) that opens the back of the cab for cargo storage. The rear seats and front passenger seat fold into the floor using the Stow 'n Go technology found in Dodge's minivans. Even more interesting, the Rampage features unibody construction, front-wheel drive and an independent rear suspension, a layout similar to Honda's Ridgeline. "The Dodge Rampage concept vehicle offers a new vision for the American pickup truck," said the press materials. Well, only if you consider borrowing major design elements from other makers "new."

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Interviewed by Automotive News at the Chicago show, Frank Klegon, the Chrysler group's executive vice president for product development, described the Gladiator concept pickup (intro'd in Detroit in 2005) as "pretty hot." "I like the Gladiator," Klegon told the trade journal. "I think it is real cool. That [concept] was built on a product base, it has a platform, and that has a much better chance of seeing the light of day than something that doesn't. It is a pretty interesting execution." The "product base" and "platform" Klegon was referring to was the redesigned '07 Wrangler.

First Led Zeppelin music, now the Muppets. All the '60s and '70s cultural touchstones are turning into marketing gimmicks. Dang. Anyway, Ford used the Chicago show to promote its energy-saving vehicles and brought in Kermit the Frog as spokes-Muppet for the "green" benefits of the Escape hybrid SUV. Ford also announced a partnership with VeraSun Energy, a renewable energy company, in the formation of a Midwest Ethanol Corridor. The effort will expand the availability of E85, a gasoline/ethanol blend, in Illinois and Missouri, with other states to follow. "The potential of E85 is huge," said Anne Stevens, Ford's executive vice president and COO of the Americas at the Chicago show. "Corn grown in Illinois is used to produce about 40 percent of the country's ethanol. The Illinois Corn Growers Association says investment by the ethanol industry in Illinois already exceeds $1 billion, and it's creating thousands of jobs." Ford has four '06 models that can run on the fuel blend, including the F-150, and has plans to build some 250,000 E85-capable vehicles this year. Ford also intends to build that many hybrid vehicles annually by 2010, when half the Ford, Mercury, and Lincoln models will be available with hybrid powertrains.

To celebrate "65 years of go anywhere/do anything capability," Jeep is releasing special 65th Anniversary Edition models of the '06 Commander, Grand Cherokee, Liberty, and Wrangler. Each will come with an equipment group that includes unique wheels, interior trim, badging, and certain equipment upgrades. For example, the Anniversary Edition Wrangler will be outfitted with 30-inch Goodyear Wranglers on Alcoa aluminum wheels, a Dana 44 rear axle, gas-charged shocks, body-colored fender flares, and a Sirius satellite radio linked to a seven-speaker sound system. The 65th Anniversary Edition vehicles will be offered in a new color, Jeep Green, in addition to Light Khaki, Dark Khaki, Bright Silver, and Black.

Volkswagen and Google, working with graphics chip maker nVidia, recently demonstrated a three-dimensional vehicle map and navigation system. By using satellite images from Google Earth, overlaid with 3D maps and real-time traffic information, users should be able to "instinctively recognize where they are in relation to the surrounding topography, especially in urban areas that are depicted with depth and accurate size relationships between buildings and roads," said VW. This sort of system could also be a tremendous benefit to GPS-using off-roaders, from fishermen plotting their favorite streams to desert racers tracking obstacles and pit stops. No firm release date for the system was mentioned by VW, though the maker did say the prototype would be available in showrooms "in the near future."

Dodge has recently approved the use of B20 biodiesel for use in '07 Ram pickups powered by the Cummins turbodiesel. At this point, the approval covers only trucks used by the military, government, and commercial fleets, but DaimlerChrysler is working with "the government, automotive suppliers, energy providers, universities, and independent agencies on a national fuel standard that would make B20 an option for all owners of Dodge Ram diesels," said the company.

The last weekend in January, the staff of 4-Wheel & Off-Road joined forces with our Primedia 4xbrethren and primary sponsor Randy's Ring & Pinion for a giant cleanup at the Stoddard Wells OHV area near Barstow, California. As far as we can tell, it was a huge success: We had fun, everyone who came out to join in seemed to have fun, the weather wasn't too bad, and we moved so much trash off the desert in just three hours that we had to get two extra Dumpsters after the event was over! (The official tally was 36 tons of trash collected by over 500 volunteers and placed in six Dumpsters.)

We're glad that so many of you were willing to lend a hand to clean up after those careless few who are no friends of ours. Saying you don't like littering and doing something about it are two very different things, and we were stoked to see so many taking action. And, just for the record, we didn't see the Sierra Club or Earth First out there picking up any trash with us. I guess it's enough for their members to write a $10 check and feel righteous in doing so.-Jerrod Jones

The Legendary Civilian Jeepers club of Wisconsin is raffling an '05 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, with the proceeds going to the Wolf River Protection Fund. The Fund assists the Mole Lake Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians secure ownership of their newly acquired Crandon Mine Site, which features some 5,600 acres of prime OHV recreational land in northern Wisconsin's Southern Forest County. Raffle tickets are just $10 and are available by logging on to www.lcjs.org or by mail to LCJ's, Raffle Tickets, N8163 Rolling Hills Drive, Fond du Lac, WI, 54935-9544. The drawing will be held June 17 at the second annual Wisconsin Off-Highway Vehicle Association Convention and Membership Meeting at the Indian Springs Lodge and Conference Center in Wabeno, Wisconsin.

Our buddy (and Four Wheeler staffer-but we won't hold that against him) Ken Brubaker recently attended the grand opening of Toyo Tire's first-ever North American tire manufacturing and warehousing facility. Located in White, Georgia, this new, $180 million, 150-acre facility will start up with the capacity to produce more than 2 million tires annually, and have an eventual manufacturing capacity of more than 6 million tires per year. Why should you care? Simple. Many of those tires will be Toyo Open Country A/Ts and M/Ts, as well as Nitto Terra Grapplers and Mud Grapplers.

Just thought I would send you a pic from Afghanistan. This would be a great place to do some 'wheelin'. There are rocks, mountains, mud, snow, and streams. The only problem is the damn land mines, so I'll just stay on the road. I have an '03 Wrangler, an '82 V-8 CJ-7, and an '80 J-20 waiting on me at home. Keep up the good work.Cw3 George Lattof
Pilot, Mississippi
National Guard

Editor's note: Our newest Drivelines feature is a series of quick interviews with leading members of the 4x4 industry/hobby. Kicking us off is a 'wheeler who really needs no introduction, legendary trail boss and Jeep Jamboree USA founder Mark A. Smith.

Drivelines: How have your Jamboree events changed in the last few years?
Mark A. Smith: They're continuing to grow as more people are introduced to off-roading. A lot of Jamborees are moving to private land as more and more public land is being closed, most recently the Daniel Boone National Forest. Jeeps and Jeeping have become a lifestyle for many.

DL: Is the Rubicon Trail safe from closure?
MS: I would say yes. Years ago I had the county re-declare the Rubicon Trail as a non-maintained county road. This gives the county full control of the road through both United States Forest Service and private land owners. The road also provides access to private land in the High Sierras, including Rubicon Springs. Closures of certain areas along the Trail were caused by overuse and gross abuse. Two years ago, a USFS law enforcement officer counted 3,000 people camped and partying at Spider Lake with no facilities. The next morning the area looked like a cotton field, which led to the emergency closure. Mark A. Smith Off-Roading Inc. and Jeep Jamboree USA have worked with the USFS, and they're very much in support of keeping the Rubicon Trail open. El Dorado County and Friends of the Rubicon are working together with the USFS to solve the problems along the Trail.

DL: Which Jeep in your collection is your favorite?
MS: My CJ-7 that we used for the Expedicion de las Americas.

DL: What's the toughest trail you've ever driven?
MS: The Darien Gap in Panama and Columbia-10 times longer and 10 times tougher than the Rubicon.

DL: Can you tip us off to any special projects you're working on?
MS: Possibly a Mark A. Smith Signature Edition Wrangler that would be capable of crossing the Darien Gap again, built to my specifications.

* Hotter Cayenne: If the 450 horses from the standard Porsche Cayenne Turbo just aren't cutting it for you, check out the 521 hp made by the new Turbo S version of the sporty SUV. Amazingly, that makes this the second most powerful production road vehicle from Porsche, topped only by the 605hp Carrera GT supercar. Yeah, like any of us really needs to go 0 to 60 in 5.2 seconds-in a truck!

* Does this sound like you? A recent Internet survey by SEMA regarding "Areas of Planned Purchases for Off-Road Vehicles" showed that fully 40 percent of those 4x4 enthusiasts polled intended to make engine performance improvements to their trucks, while 33.3 percent planned work on their rig's suspensions. Safety equipment was the surprise third-place finisher, spurred by the "greater presence of competitive off-road activities, such as rockcrawling and rally/Baja activities," said SEMA. Paint and graphics, body kits, exhaust systems, and audio components scored just single-digit responses to the survey, while seats and upholstery, and interior accessories in general, were mentioned by none of the respondents.

* How does your age relate to pickup choice? Another SEMA study tracked the ages of 1,700 pickup truck owners, half of whom have spent or plan to spend at least $500 accessorizing their trucks. The Dodge Ram scored well with the younger owners, with the highest percentages of ownership in the 18-24, 25-34, and 35-44 age groups. The Tundra was the favorite of 45-54 year-olds, and the Cadillac EXT (Caddy's version of the Avalanche) was favored by 55- to 64-year-olds and those over 75. The 65- to 74-year-olds favored the GMC Sierra. It's interesting that the F-150, which has earned the "overall best-selling vehicle" title for years, didn't top any of the age categories in this survey.

SEMA's D.C. watchdogs tell us a bill has been introduced in the West Virginia State Legislature that would further restrict the ability of the state's vehicle hobbyists from maintaining inoperable vehicles on private property. S.B. 116 would redefine "abandoned motor vehicles" to include vehicles or vehicle parts which are either unlicensed or inoperable, or both, are not in an enclosed building and have remained on private property for more than 30 days. Under current law, the abandoned vehicle law applies primarily to vehicles on public property. The bill would make violation a misdemeanor offense punishable by substantial fines, community service, and jail.

Several environmental groups have sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to include on the endangered species list a rare blue butterfly believed to only exist around the Sand Mountain Recreation Area in western Nevada, a popular destination for motorcycles, dune buggies, and ATVs. In recent years, local and national OHV organizations have been working with the BLM, FWS, local governments, tribes, and environmentalists to craft a voluntary approach to protect the Kearney buckwheat plant (the butterflies' food supply) and save the butterfly without necessarily listing the insect as an endangered species. This includes OHV travel route designations, fencing to protect habitat, and more education and enforcement efforts. These groups will continue their efforts to reach a collaborative conservation plan. Meanwhile, the FWS has agreed to undertake a review on whether a listing is warranted.

Michigan State Representative Rick Jones has alerted SEMA that he will no longer pursue, in its current form, legislation to ban vehicles equipped with replacement exhaust systems that differ from the design specifications of the original muffler. In its place, Representative Jones is considering SEMA model legislation that provides for the testing of vehicle exhaust noise to a 95-decibel standard adopted by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE J1169). To date, with the popular support of vehicle enthusiasts and related businesses, the model has been enacted in California, Washington State, and Maine.

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